- Cathy Sweeney
The Taco Cabana Story
Wanting to start blogging again, I reminded myself of a promise not to do so until I wrote about a particular story.
I’ve been wanting to share this story for some time. The events of the last few months cause me to believe some might want to hear it now. Our son, Jack, and I refer to it as “The Taco Cabana Story.” I’m not sure if that is the best title, but I do know that the story will stay with me a long time. Why? After you read this, you might question my judgment. I ended up questioning something else. It’s a long one, so get comfortable.
Many of you are aware that Jack played select baseball in DFW for many years. Three or four times a week, Steve or I would drive him from our home in Richardson to McKinney, Texas, where he would practice with his team. To be honest, we didn’t really mind – I don’t think any of us would change the alone time we had with him in the car. At least at the young ages, he was willing to talk and share details about his day, and I viewed that as a blessing.
On this night, I was on car duty. Jack was 11 or 12, and after practice, he and I agreed to stop at the Taco Cabana on Stacy Road and Highway 75 in Allen, Texas. I’m really a fan of the EZ-on/EZ-off drive thru places, and Jack had recently become somewhat addicted to Taco Cabana’s brisket tacos. So, I pulled into the parking lot, prepared to order him his favorite.
As we pulled out of the drive-thru, Jack already chowing on his taco, I saw a man pushing a car in to the parking lot. Now, remember, it was after sunset, and not many people headed for Taco Cabana on a Tuesday or Thursday night at 9pm in Allen. I had a feeling this man wouldn’t have many offers for help in the next hour.
I stopped the car, told Jack to keep eating, and stepped over to the broken down car, now with the hood popped open. The man was trying to get the engine to roll over, and he wasn’t having much luck. Being the properly trained mechanic that I am (my dad made sure I could charge a battery, and I had jumper cables in the trunk), I asked him if I could help jump the battery in his well-used car.
He stopped turning the key, and took a big breath. This man was probably in his early 20’s. An African American, he was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Then he turned to me, looking very tired – almost worn out – and said simply, “Yes. Thank you.” Then he smiled.
Jack helped us move his car up the incline and into the parking spot next to mine. I got out of my car (still dressed for the day in my business clothes, mind you) and popped the hood to connect the cables. Thankfully, each of us knew what we were doing, and his car was running again soon. He thanked me kindly, shook my hand, waved to Jack, and started to back out of the parking spot. I told him I would follow him, at least until we had to get off of the highway in Richardson. All was going well as he turned the wheel to leave the spot.
Then the car stalled again.
Another man was driving into the parking lot, and I asked him if perhaps he could help. I had used up all of my mechanical knowledge on the jumper cables.
He just looked at us, didn’t attempt to get out of the car, pointed to his watch, and shook his head, “No.”
The young man lay his head on the steering wheel, and pounded his fist into it. “Just wanna get to my boy,” he cried. When I asked him to tell me about that, he said his 3 year old son was with his girlfriend in Dallas and he hadn’t seen them in a few days.
Something nudged me. I tried to shake it off, but it kept pestering. So I told him, “Look, we’re headed that direction. Why don’t you get your things and I’ll drop you off at the DART location in Richardson. Then you can ride the train to downtown and your girlfriend can pick you up from there. Will that work?”
He looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I was, but as the offer hung in the air, he slowly said, “Sure; thanks.” He grabbed the few pieces of clothing he had in the back of his car, said “Hey” to Jack as Jack gave up the front seat to him. I bought him a drink, took off onto Highway 75, and we started a reasonable conversation. I wish I could recall his name.
I learned he was driving down from Sherman, where he lived with his grandmother. He had just finished several days of late shifts at a nursing home where he worked. That’s why he hadn’t seen his family in a few days. He was trying to save enough money that they could all live together, but for now, they were apart. And, they were expecting another child in a month. I suggested he call his girlfriend so she would know what was happening.
I overheard his side of the conversation, and I could hear her mumbled voice on the other side of the phone. The night was edging on, and it was clear both of them were tired. Further, being new to the area, I interpreted that she thought I was referring to the Greyhound Bus station and not the DART line near their home.
I quietly asked him, “Where do you need to go to get home?” With that, he stopped talking, turned his head, and looked at me like I was insane.
“What?” he asked. “She lives off Knox/Henderson. Why?” All I could think of was an 8 month pregnant woman out at night, trying to find the right rail station, and wandering around.
I’m very familiar with that intersection of off 75 in Dallas. I used to live very close to it. I lived on the ‘right’ side of the intersection, that is. The side that had its own patrol of town police; the side that felt safe. Not the side that intersection other streets filled to the brim with poverty and unemployment. Not that side. I knew, if I continued to drive…I knew which way I would turn at that intersection.
“Tell her you’ll be home in about 15 minutes. Jack, you ok with that?” I asked as I caught Jack’s eye in the rear view mirror. Jack nodded, and I said, “Tell her you are on your way.” He did; he hung up the phone. I called Steve to let him know we were helping someone with car trouble; why I didn’t elaborate, I don’t know. In the car, we continued to talk, the three of us, until we reached Knox/Henderson. “Which way?” I asked. “Turn left,” he replied.
After a few more turns, we reached our destination. He grabbed his clothes, shook my hand and Jack’s, and thanked us over and over. “Pay it forward someday,” I said. “God Bless.” And we drove away.
Silence in the car. I was thinking about a lot of things, maybe even feeling good that I was able to help someone. Then Jack asked me, “Mom? What are you planning on telling Dad?” I thought about it for a second. “I don’t know, Jack. I’m not sure he’d be very happy with me.” Jack prodded: “Why not?” I thought about it again, and I sighed.
“Jack, if I were to share a story with some people that I drove a strange black man from a Taco Cabana in Allen, Texas, to this neighborhood, after dark, with our 11 year old son in the car….well, they might think I was lacking in judgment, to say the least.”
Now it was Jack’s turn to think for a moment. And after a minute, he responded with words that slapped me in the face, and words that I will never, ever forget.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Yeah?” I answered.
“What’s his being black have to do with it?”
For so many reasons, a lump formed in my throat. I cringed, and with all the humility I could muster, and tearing up with knowledge that even a seminary student who cherishes a God who loves each person as equal can fall prey to ridiculous and hateful stereotypes …..with all of those feelings, I replied to this young, 11 year old boy:
“Not one thing, son. And thank you.” And we were quiet for the rest of the drive home.
Having told this story a few times verbally, I have seen the reaction from others. And yes, some people do think I lacked judgment on that night.
Should I have taken the safe route, and called this stranger a taxi? Probably.
But not because of the color of his skin.
I’ve silently asked him for forgiveness for my arrogance, and in my head, he has forgiven me. I know God has. I never want to forget this story. And that’s why I’m sharing it with you. Be mindful, my friends. Listen to others with intention and love. We owe it to each other.